It’s refreshing to see such a complex, most-often unlikeable female character in a production that puts our gender expectations to the test: Coriolanus Vanishes is a good catch this Fringe.
Chris (Irene Allan) speaks to the audience about love, life, drugs, sex, children and guilt in the Traverse’s gender-swapped Coriolanus Vanishes – a challenging monologue, masterfully undertaken by Allan. It’s refreshing to see this type of morally dubious character – explored in much depth – understood as unisex and not exclusively male. It puts our gender expectations to the test, in all the right ways.
Throughout the monologue, Chris finds herself in different situations – from home to work to jail. We observe her interaction with various people only to find she’s always self-centred and very rarely pleasant to anyone, even her family and friends. But although Chris is highly unlikable most of the time, Irene Allan plays her as someone finally coming to terms with her own guilt for what has happened. On top of that, speaking very fast and with a crazy spark in her eyes, Allan communicates throughout the whole piece that Chris is not mentally or emotionally stable, and that her actions are not led by any kind of evilness. While these make the character somewhat more accessible to the audience, they also raise interesting questions of how to treat such cases; how we help these people and to what extent should we judge them for their actions.
Becky Minto’s simple set design is bathed in colourful lighting (Nich Smith), and tperfectly executed, rhythmical switches between the scenes make Coriolanus Vanishes a beautiful stylized performance. The contrast between the beauty of the staging and ugliness of the story is important to maintain a connection with the audience; to balance their experience in order to keep them open to take in the whole of the performance. This is the story of the morally dubious from our circles, not “the other” from far, far away. And because such truths about the world around us are often difficult to accept, Leddy was absolutely right in his choice to use visual beauty as a tool to make Coriolanus Vanishes more digestible to the audience.
Having said that, not even the beautiful staging always makes it easy to be fully interested in Chris. Very often, the character is so unlikable that no connection can be formed. But rather than to blame that on Allan or Leddy, it poses a question of whether the reason for that is the gender-expectations we still retain, whether we can admit them to ourselves or not. ‘Chris-like’ characters have been portrayed by men in different media forms for decades – and are rarely judged as lacking connection with the audience. So, would we be more forgiving of Chris if she were a man? Why?